The Free Press, Mankato, MN


November 9, 2013

Appearance of favoritism clouds light rail deal

Why it matters: Democratic donors appear to have unusual influence on the location of the Southwest Corridor light rail line

The appearance of undue influence in politics and public policy can be just as bad as actual undue influence if the public loses confidence that the decisions were made in an even-handed manner.

That’s the challenge for Gov. Mark Dayton and the city of Minneapolis in handling a recent controversy on moving the Southwest Corridor light rail line away from the Kenilworth neighborhood where several well to-do Democratic donors live.

A report in the Star Tribune suggests a handful of politically connected supporters of Dayton, Mayor R.T. Rybak and other Democrats who live in Kenilworth have been able to halt the project that would have 200 light rail trains a day going through an area in close proximity to their homes.

A handful of Kenilworth residents opposing location of the line have given about $350,000 to Democrats, including Dayton and Rybak, and other liberal causes over the years, according to the Star Tribune report.

They’ve been able to delay the $1.55 billion project that will carry passengers between Eden Prairie and downtown Minneapolis. The line was modified to go into a tunnel near the neighborhood so as to provide as little disruption as possible at a cost of about $160 million. But now, residents are objecting to a two-tenths of a mile strip where the trains would emerge from the tunnel to cross a channel between two lakes.

Some residents are also raising money for a possible legal challenge to the project.

Dayton has acknowledged the opposition to the project, telling the Star Tribune it was on a collision course with neighbors. He delayed approval for 90 days. But not all people in the Kenilworth area oppose the project. A group of townhome owners say they are not opposing it and agree the partial tunnel project mitigates some of their worries. Many communities along the line overwhelming approved of the project as well.

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